After six days of silence, Mayor LaToya Cantrell held a press conference Wednesday to discuss her controversial decision to sit with the 14-year-old armed robber’s family at sentencing rather than his victims, but she didn’t say much about her relationship with the teen, let alone that he graduated from the city’s Pathways youth internship program. Cantrell created the program in 2019 and continues to play a practical role.
But the purpose of Pathways, its success in fighting crime, and the timing of the arrest and involvement of a juvenile offender remained unclear.
However, the mayor’s communications director Gregory Joseph recently provided more details, saying the teen ended up in the Pathways program after committing a number of armed robberies, including one on September 11, 2021.
Police say that during the attack, three young men approached a 19-year-old woman on foot in the 4700 block of rue Baronne, snatched her purse, demanded her belongings, and fled in their white Honda Civic. “She had her laptop, school books, everything,” said Meaghan Fontenot Donnelly, whose sister was the victim of that robbery.
According to Joseph, after the teenager was arrested for his alleged role in the crime, he was ordered to complete the city’s internship program. The 15-week program connects young people aged 14 to 17 who have experienced the juvenile justice system with local employers who offer paid internships in areas such as real estate, technology, electronics, beauty, hairdressing and marine biology. It also teaches them how to effectively manage their emotions.
“I talked about Pathways as one example of how the city of New Orleans invests in people. The (convicted teenager) was one of those young men,” Cantrell said. “I was there to support a young man who was to participate in a program created and funded by the city.”
According to Emily Wolf, director of the Office of Youth and Family Affairs, the program has 61 alumni and a recidivism rate of 8%. Nineteen of the 20 young people currently enrolled at Pathways are in school.
“The first few weeks are support for the development of soft life skills, and the remaining 10 weeks after that they spend on an internship,” Wolf said. “We believe it is essential for every young person in our city to have access to opportunities to get what they need to continue to excel in school and work and do what they want.”
The teenager, who was supported by the mayor in court on August 18, was convicted on three counts of first-degree robbery and sentenced by juvenile court judge Renoord J. Darensburg to three years’ probation. NOPD officers have an arrest warrant for a second suspect, a 13-year-old teenager, who remains at large. They didn’t identify the third teen suspect.
Gina Womack, executive director of Families and Friends of Louisiana Incarcerated Children, said the case is an example of how the juvenile welfare system does its job.
“The purpose of the juvenile justice system is not to punish youth, but to rehabilitate them,” she said. “We fully support a second chance for young people.”
Joseph also re-emphasized Cantrell’s statement about the importance of the city continuing to invest in youth.
“The trauma of the victims is real,” Joseph acknowledged. “Everyone in this administration understands and acknowledges this, but no one wants to turn their backs on a child who is now on the right track. When we say that a child should receive a serious term in prison, what do we mean? I thought we went through this as a society, locking up black boys and throwing away the keys.”
This may anger and offend some of you. Hope this gets some of you thinking.